We had another cracking Zoom talk this week – Tom Stapledon talking about the life of Joseph Williamson (1769’ 1840).
What a man. Starting in poverty, working hard as an apprentice in a local company, marrying the owner’s daughter, becoming the owner, moving the company into property development, and as a result becoming a millionaire.
But the most interesting part of his story was his obsession with digging beneath his, and other people’s properties – secretly! Originally it seemed that this was a way to get sandstone for building yet more properties, but he soon had to support the properties from falling into his own holes by building underground arches in sandstone and brick.
As the cavernous spaces he opened up extended further and further, he got skilled craftsmen to make elegant, extravagant and beautiful underground structures, at their deepest sixty feet underground! With the poverty of the times, in the post Napoleonic war era, his obsession enabled him to become a philanthropist, giving work to local people to develop his frantic digging endeavours.
I’d like to say that it all ended well, but there isn’t always a happy ending, is there!
With the growth of railways, Edge Hill became a route into today’s Lime Street station, and constructing the railway route resulted in the discovery, and filling, of some of his mole work. The area he had built his houses in went down-market. His underground spaces were used for what we would call fly-tipping today.
The ‘Friends of Williamson’s Tunnels’ has spent the last few years emptying the underground spaces of this infill, exposing them to a new generation’s eyes.
They offer guided tours of the amazing work underground, which would be fascinating to visit. Looking at the ladders used to descend into Williamson’s vision, however, I’m not too sure….